CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrates an Aug. 16 Mass at Our Lady's Church in Medley's Neck, marking a double milestone observing the 250th anniversary of the parish and the official installation of Father John Nguyen as pastor.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrates an Aug. 16 Mass at Our Lady's Church in Medley's Neck, marking a double milestone observing the 250th anniversary of the parish and the official installation of Father John Nguyen as pastor.

Our Lady’s Church in Medley’s Neck marked a double milestone Aug. 16 with a Mass observing the 250th anniversary of the parish and officially installing Father John Nguyen as its pastor. 

Cardinal Donald Wuerl was the principal celebrant of the Mass and installed Father Nguyen as the new pastor there. He said the double celebration of the pastor’s installation and the parish’s 250th anniversary “all comes together and finds its home in the celebration of the Eucharist.”

“The early Christians came together to do four things: pray, hear the teaching of the Church, build up a faith community and the Eucharist,” Cardinal Wuerl said, adding that the faithful of Medley’s Neck continue to do that at Our Lady’s Church.

“We come here to talk to God. We can do that anywhere, but this is sacred space set aside for that conversation,” he said. “Anyone who comes to this church – from the youngest to the oldest – knows they will hear the words of Jesus Christ.” 

He said that with the anniversary Mass and the installation of the pastor, “we celebrate our fidelity to God… and thank God for His love.”

Father John Nguyen – who has served as pastor of the parish for about a year, but who was officially installed as the historic parish’s new pastor at the anniversary Mass – said the celebration is “a very happy day and an honor for us.”

He called his parishioners “very dedicated, very supportive” and said the250th anniversary celebration “is a great joy we all celebrate.”

Bill and Olga Russell have been members of Our Lady’s Church for more than 40 years, although Bill also worshipped there as a child and his father was a member of the parish.

“This is part of our life,” Bill said. “Our children received the sacraments and their religious training here. We go to Mass every day. We love it here.”

Olga, who described the parish as “real country, nothing fancy,” said the parish is proud of its multi-cultural and multi-generational makeup. “We are a very tight parish, we all get along,” she said. “It is almost like family.”

“We have 250 years of God with us. We have the Mass. We love it here,” she added.

Historical records show that a chapel on the south side of Breton Bay in what is now St. Mary’s County was built in 1650. A decade later, the chapel was replaced by one on the north side of the bay.

In 1765, Jesuit Father George Hunter bought property on the south side of the bay to establish what is now Our Lady’s Church. A new church building was erected in 1817 to replace the original structure, and about 55 years later land was purchased around the chapel for what is now the parish cemetery.

Cardinal Wuerl said that marking the milestone anniversary of the parish “is a way of connecting ourselves to the history of the very beginning of the Church here” in the United States.

“Our spiritual history takes us all the way back through the Apostles, through the missionaries, all the way back to Jesus Christ,” he added.

According to a history provided by the parish, the current church was built in 1910 to replace the 1817 structure. In 1914, additional land was purchased to increase the size of the parish cemetery. In 1921, the parish built a school that eventually closed in 1954.

Today, the parish has about 400 registered families.

Parishioner Evelyn Ryce, who “received all of my sacraments here,” said the parish is proud of its history and “we know our task is to pass on the faith.”

“Our parents gave it (the faith) to us and it is our responsibility to pass it on,” Ryce said. “Here, we are taking care of our children and grandchildren and giving them a love of Christ and a relationship with God.”

She said that because many of the parish families have several generations worshipping there, “the warm, family feeling here is something that we carry forward.”

The anniversary celebration also included the cardinal blessing the parish’s new outdoor Stations of the Cross and a reception at the nearby fairgrounds.

 “As we celebrate the 250th anniversary of this church and the installation of Father John, we celebrate the great grace of God. We are God’s people,” Cardinal Wuerl said.